By Greg Wright
Another season, another slow start on the offensive side of the ball.
Another week, another struggle to turn Red Zone visits into touchdowns.
Another game, and another media anguish about Jimmy Graham, and why he doesn’t duplicate in Seattle what he accomplished in New Orleans. And another dearth of decent analysis.
After all, it really isn’t any great mystery, is it?
I mentioned the issue in my exchange with The Huard Whisperer this week:
But still there’s the question that has dogged the Hawks for three years: Why doesn’t Graham get the ball in the Red Zone? Why so few TDs from the former All-Pro?
There are a couple things analysts are forgetting, or just not thinking about at all.
First, the NFC West is a terrible division for tight ends. Name one All-Pro tight end produced by the NFC West in the last ten years. Can’t? I’ll name one for you. San Francisco’s Vernon Davis, and he was just a 2nd-team All-Pro. And if you’re a Seahawks fan, and I think you are, you’ll remember that Davis’ productivity started a steady and precipitous decline with the advent of the Legion of Boom. (No? Well, look up the stats .) And you’ll certainly remember the vicious hits laid on Davis by Kam Chancellor and other Boomers. (And remember what our safeties did to Gronk at New England last November?)
Two other All-Pro tight ends have played in the NFC West, too — both with Seattle. Tom Cable brought Zach Miller in with him from Oakland, and everyone salivated. As far as a pass catcher, though, Miller disappeared. And then Graham was brought in to replace Miller. And relatively speaking, Graham has also disappeared.
Tight ends disappear in the NFC West. Why? Because NFC West offenses are designed to win against NFC defenses, pure and simple. And NFC West defenses punish tight ends. If you can’t win against your division, the rest doesn’t matter, because your division is 6/16ths of your schedule.
Let’s not forget, after all, that Graham has not just disappeared in Seattle since playing for the Seahawks. He also disappeared here when he was in his prime playing against the Seahawks.
Here were his stats on December 2, 2013 in a dismal game for the Saints at the Clink:
3 catches on 9 targets. And here’s what he did when the Saints returned to Seattle for the playoffs that season:
Yep. That’s our boy. The Hawks have always made Graham disappear.
Which brings me to my second point. I have not heard one analyst this week resurrect this story from that January 2014 playoff game: “Michael Bennett: Jimmy Graham is soft, overrated .”
You may remember the scenario. During pregame warmups, Bruce Irvin and a few other Hawks were near midfield and Graham, along with a couple other Saints, ran some drills into the area. Irvin took offense, and a scuffle ensued. Graham declined to acquiesce to Irvin’s request to vacate the space, declaring “I’m Jimmy.” Irvin quipped, “Who’s Jimmy?” The Legion of Boom effectively answered the question that day: not much of anybody in the NFC West.
So let’s remember: this is still the same Jimmy. He’s even less of a Jimmy, really. When was the last time you saw him leave his feet, or break a tackle? When he gets hit below the waist, all 265 pounds of him falls over like a dry leaf. When the ball is thrown to him in the endzone, 5’9″ cornerbacks somehow manage to make all 6’7″ of The Jimmy stand flat-footed on the turf.
The Jimmy I watch on Sundays indeed still looks soft and under-performing. He needs a division with powder-puff defensive backfields.
The question for Graham in Seattle will not continue to be “Who’s Jimmy?” It will continue to be “Where’s Jimmy?” And the answer will always be: Not much of anywhere. It’s by design, and it’s because Jimmy is Jimmy. We’d be better off without him, and so would he.
There’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.